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Watch: Viola Davis on Her Anti-Hunger Campaign: “I Didn’t Know Where My Next Meal Was Coming From”

Watch: Viola Davis on Her Anti-Hunger Campaign: "I Didn’t Know Where My Next Meal Was Coming From"

As an honoree at Variety’s 2014 Power of Women event, a celebration of female philanthropy within the film industry, Viola Davis delivered a personal speech last Friday about her difficult childhood. 

A spokeswoman for Hunger Is, Davis recalled the conditions that made her Rhode Island upbringing so painful: “Although my childhood was filled with many happy memories, it was also filled with abject poverty. I was one of the 17 million kids in this country who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from.” 

“I did everything to get food,” she continued. “I’d stolen — for food. I jumped in huge garbage bins with maggots — for food. I have befriended people in the neighborhood who I knew had mothers who cooked three meals a day — for food. And I sacrificed a childhood — for food — and grew up in immense shame.”

Unfortunately, childhood hunger is still a mainstay in 21st-century America. Davis states, “One out of every five children in this country are living in households that are food-poor. And of all the elementary-school teachers out there, they say that three out of five kids in their class come to school hungry. In the richest country in the world.”

Watch Davis’ moving and wry speech: 

Jennifer Lopez, Reese Witherspoon, Jane Fonda, and Donna Langley were the other honorees, though videos of their speeches aren’t available online. They also shared the reasons and experiences that led them to their charitable causes: 

Lopez on women’s health

“Very early after my twins were born, my daughter (Emme) developed this bump on the back of her head,” Lopez says. “So I rushed to the hospital, and it was the middle of the night and the doctor met me there. And I had all these privileges, which wasn’t lost on me. I went back that night and thought, what if I didn’t have that? What if something was really wrong with her?” … 

[Jennifer Lopez’s sister] Lynda [Lopez] says: “Our focus is improving the well-being of women and children, and not imposing some idea of what that is, but really looking at the community and seeing what do they need? What improvements are they lacking? There are huge issues with obesity, nutrition and childhood health in the Bronx, and we knew that pretty well from our own lives. It was just a matter of sitting down with everyone there and figuring out what we could really do to improve lives.”

Witherspoon on girls’ education

“My daughter brought her book to me and said, ‘Mom, you’ve got to hear [Malala Yousafzai’s] story,’” recalls Witherspoon. “It’s so incredible, all she’s overcome.” … 

[Witherspoon’s producing partner] “Bruna [Papandrea] and I really connect through our love of books and reading. And I think to encourage that in places where women don’t have the same opportunities is extraordinary.” 

Fonda on teens’ sexual health and contraception

“I’m a controversial person, right? Coming from Hollywood, I was looked on with suspicion as an elitist. I move to Georgia (after marrying media mogul Ted Turner) and I work in adolescent sexuality — again controversial,” she says.

But she saw a need: The state had the highest rate of adolescent pregnancy, “not something anyone wants to boast about,” she says. … 

“Hope is the best contraceptive,” she says. “Young people don’t see a future for themselves to motivate them to delay sexual activity or use contraception. Middle-class kids know it will compromise their future, jobs, marriage.”

Universal Pictures Chairwoman Langley on women’s leadership:

“I want [my sons] to grow up in a world where female empowerment and female rights are a birthright,” she said. “It’s not something that’s fought for, it’s not something that is asked for politely. It’s something that women around the world are born with.”

[via Variety]

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